Religion in the Age of Enlightenment


Norman Vance


Goethe, Mehr Licht, Religion in the Age of Enlightenment


Goethe's dying words-his request for Mehr Licht, more light in the darkened sickroom-were meant literally, but they were immediately given metaphorical significance. What did they signify? Did they imply Olympian confidence that more intellectual light would keep flooding in-or frustration and despair at the lack of it? A similar ambiguity is reflected in the history of biblical criticism, an archetypal Enlightenment enterprise that somehow failed to obey the rules and deliver as hoped and failed to obey the rules, despite all the dry light shed upon it. When Jurgen Habermas responded to the award of the Adorno Prize in 1980, he famously described and defended Modernity (die Moderne) as an uncompleted project initiated by the Enlightenment. After a further thirty years of Modernity, aspects of the project are still apparently incomplete. Has Enlightenment reason still more work to do on the Bible, after all this time, or was this reason largely misapplied in the first place?